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COMMENT: As the digital home becomes more of a reality and ISPs deliver faster bandwidth, major entertainment and technology groups are snubbing Australia by denying us access to downloadable video, music and movie content. The bottom line is that companies such as Google and Yahoo don’t trust Australians, but they do trust U.S. nationals.Google – which recently launched Google Video – MSN, Yahoo and even News Ltd-owned Fox Studios are making content available only to people who own a U.S. credit card. This is despite the fact that it is just as easy to serve a movie download to an Australian-resident wanting to buy the service as it is to deliver it locally to a U.S. consumer.
 
The issue, they claim, is digital rights management (DRM). Recently News Corp’s Fox Entertainment has cut a deal with sister company, DirecTV, to put FX and Fox Broadcasting content over a broadband line. The system will become available in March 2006 and deliver primetime hits from up to two days before airing on TV, for a payment of USD$2.99 each. It will not be available in Australia.
 
Later in the year, U.S. subscribers will be able to buy any TV content they missed from a primetime series, for just USD$0.99, up to six or seven days after the national broadcast. Again, the content will not be available in Australia.
 
These moves reflect the steps content houses have made in deals with Apple, Google, AOL and Yahoo for making delay TV available to U.S. nationals. Austrailan organisations such as Foxtel, Channel Nine, Seven and Ten don’t want you to have access to such content because they miss out on the advertising revenue.
 
Windows Media PCs are now shipping in volume and one of a Media Center’s key features is the ability to view and record content. Intel introduced the new Viiv platform at the recent CES show in Las Vegas. This technology allows seamless content streaming and playback to home theatre kit or an audio system.
 

Also at the CES show, Google laid on a big song and dance act to launch its new Google video service and a great many Australian media organisations covered the event. The only problem is that Google Video is not available in Australia. Google, which is very much a US-centric organisation, has also launched Google for mobile phones. Australians have, again, been snubbed. Google in fact doesn’t  even have an Australian office, due to our size (20 million individuals) being seen as irrelevant by this fast-growing organisation.
 
Digital Rights Management is all about who will have access to content and at what price. Companies such as Sony BMG recently incurred the wrath of PC users by deliberately nobbling computers that were used to copy their music CDs. Fresh off the multiple scandals surrounding Sony’s use of root kit-implanting DRM technology, Google is setting consumers’ teeth a-gnashing. As part of Google’s Video Store, where it will sell content from CBS and others entertainment Companies, Google said it has developed its own DRM software to prevent people from distributing downloads in violation of its partners’ copyrights. But this isn’t going over well in some camps, with consumer complaints abounding. People are saying, among other things, that they really don’t need another DRM system that doesn’t play nicely with anyone else’s. Sure, they’re right about that, but the need to protect online content isn’t going away anytime soon. That need will grow and morph as different forms of content are delivered by various types of middlemen such as Telstra, Google, Yahoo, Apple and others, who will no doubt soon join the DRM party as they gear up to deliver video content.
 
Right now, most US companies such as Google don’t trust Australians and one can blame organisations such as Kazaa for giving Australia a bad DRM reputation. The plain fact is that most companies expect to make money from their content, and they expect their content will remain their property. They want to do things like count the number of users who are enjoying their wares, and I can’t really blame them.
 
Now, do I like using said DRM wares as a customer? Of course not. How do you talk to the “online music-subscription service in the sky” to explain that you’re not really trying to ‘steal’ an extra copy of that song but that, see, your computer’s hard drive died and you got a new one, and you’re just trying to replace what you’ve already paid for? Or to the CD that you’re only trying to make another copy because the original went missing.
 
As a consumer I loathe the incompatibility and inconvenience of DRM. But as a business person, I understand why it’s needed. Most online services and entertainment-related concerns, I’m hoping, learned lessons from Sony about what not to do with DRM, sure, but there aren’t a lot of models yet about how to do DRM right.
 
I believe that we’re going to have to face a lot more attempts at this from companies such as Google that are in the middle of online-content-hungry consumers on one side and the people who create said content and expect to be fairly compensated on the other. But don’t isolate Australia from content because players such as Kerry Stokes and Foxtel want to force us to watch content with commercials.
 

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